HELENA – A trail near Fort Harrison is now named in honor of a fallen Montana serviceman from World War II.
On Saturday morning, dozens of members of the Gruber family were on hand to help dedicate the William Dawson Gruber Memorial Trail at Tenmile Creek Park.
“It kind of makes a closing on something that’s been going on for 75 years,” said Gruber’s brother Frank.
Pvt. William Gruber, called Bill by his family, died in 1942, as a prisoner of war in the Philippines. Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense was finally able to identify his remains. In August, he was returned to Montana, to be laid to rest alongside his family in Jefferson County.
Mary Hollow, executive director of Prickly Pear Land Trust, said she had worked with Frank Gruber and his wife Bonnie to find a way to memorialize Bill Gruber.
“Our time here is limited, and for people like William, unfortunately, it was really limited,” she said. “The things that we do on the land, and the legacies of that land are what remain and what will continue on for a very long time.”
Now, a new plaque and a stone bench made in Gruber’s honor sit at the start of the trail, across Williams Street from the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center.
Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, Montana’s adjutant general and head of the Montana National Guard, said the memorial serves as an important symbol.
“To the soldiers and airmen who train here, to those who did train, they see where the nation has remembered we will never leave a fallen comrade,” he said. “We will always work to bring them home.”
The Gruber Memorial Trail is among more than three miles of trail at Tenmile Creek Park, linking Fort Harrison to Spring Meadow Lake and to the rest of Helena. Prickly Pear Land Trust and the fort worked together in creating the park – to provide a noise buffer between military operations and residential areas, and to improve recreational opportunities around the fort.
“We have only started to see, I think, the community benefit that will come from this public space now being available to make the connection with Fort Harrison, and some of the other benefits – explaining what our veteran community looks like, what some of its sacrifices are and how we can honor and respect those sacrifices,” Hollow said.
Frank Gruber said he’s thankful that Bill Gruber’s memory can be part of that.
“I think the front of the bench says it,” he said.
The bench has an inscription reading, “Gone but never forgotten.”